The raw food movement is largely predicated on the idea that cooking foods destroys certain vitamins and phytonutrients and therefore, we should eat fruits and vegetables in their natural state as much as possible. Well, it turns out that some nutrients are better absorbed by the body once cooked, meaning some vegetables are better cooked than raw.
In fact, a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who followed a regular, healthy, whole foods diet (with a normal mix of cooked and raw foods) absorbed more beta-carotene than women who also ate a healthy, whole foods diet but only ate raw foods. So even though the raw foods group ate more phytonutrients than the cooked food group, they absorbed less of it.
We’re definitely not making a case against raw foods or a raw food diet. Let’s be clear: any diet high in vegetables—cooked or raw—is healthy and good for you! But the science is clear that certain nutrients absorb better into our bodies once cooked. So how you prepare certain vegetables affects its nutritional value. Not to mention that cooking certain veggies can make them tastier and easier to eat and digest. So why eat just raw tomatoes? Eat raw and cooked depending on your mood and recipe.
Here are the vegetables and the nutrients found in them that are better cooked than raw.
It’s common knowledge that tomatoes lose a lot of vitamin C when cooked. However, research has discovered that levels of lycopene go up significantly in tomatoes when cooked—probably because the heat helps break down the thick cell walls, which hold a number of important nutrients. Lycopene is one of the most powerful antioxidants we can eat and is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. Here’s a hearty soup recipe with cooked tomatoes you can try. https://lifeandhealth.org/undo-my-disease/diabetes/italian-chickpea-and-quinoa-soup/1415597.html
This vegetable is full of vitamins A, C and E and when cooked, antioxidant levels in the asparagus went up by 16-25%, according to a study published in 2009 in the International Journal of Food Science. In addition, its level of phenolic acid (a nutrient also associated with a reduced risk of cancer) went up significantly.
This leafy vegetable has become popular in salads, wraps and sandwiches simply raw. But Popeye ate cooked spinach in a can for a reason. A 2005 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry demonstrated that steaming spinach reduced its levels of oxalic acid—which interferes with your body’s ability to absorb iron and calcium—by a whopping 53%! So cooking spinach improves your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in it by a lot. Steaming this veggie also ensures it maintains its levels of folate, an important B vitamin that plays a role in making DNA and has been found to reduce the risk of several types of cancer. Research has also shown that overall, cooking spinach increases its levels of iron, calcium and magnesium. And have you noticed that spinach shrinks like crazy when cooked? Eating cooked spinach means you will be able to eat a lot more of it.
Although popular (and if you ask my kids, preferred) as a raw vegetable snack, you might want to add some cooked carrots to your menu. Research has found that beta-carotene levels are boosted significantly when carrots are cooked. Beta-carotene is one of the main reasons we eat carrots. This nutrient gets converted by our body into vitamin A, which is important for vision, bone growth and essential for the immune system. Research has also shown that cooking carrots in less water helps maintain higher levels of phytonutrients.
According to a study in Nutrition Research cooking green beans increased its cholesterol fighting power compared to raw beans. Most people eat green beans cooked anyway but scientific research published in the journal Food Science observed that higher levels of antioxidants were found in green beans when they were baked, microwaved or even fried—versus boiling or pressure cooking. We don’t recommend frying in oil but an air fryer would work nicely.
This cruciferous vegetable has exploded in popularity recently. But it’s mostly consumed raw in salads and smoothies. You might want to eat some cooked as well. Kale contains isothiocyanates, which prevents the body from using iodine which the body needs for the thyroid to regulate metabolism, among many things. However, cooking kale deactivates the enzymes that cause this harmful effect. That’s why the Harvard School of Public Health recommends at least lightly steaming kale. You can always throw kale into vegetable soup recipes like this one we love with kale and white beans https://lifeandhealth.org/food/kale-and-white-bean-soup/181275.html.
Remember to get your five servings of fruits or vegetables per day by including some cooked veggies to your menu and optimize your nutrients!